Earth '06 An Election Guide


(Because the planet really is in the balance)




THE STATES OF THE ENVIRONMENT
NOW MORE THAN EVER, ENVIRONMENTAL ISSUES ARE HITTING VOTERS WHERE THEY LIVE. HERE’S WHAT’S HAPPENING AROUND THE COUNTRY

BY ALAN FARAGO

Oregon: A dead zone roughly the size of Rhode Island has reappeared off the state’s Pacific coast for the fifth year in a row; scientists link the oxygen-free phenomenon to global warming, and worry that it could devastate Oregon’s fishing and crabbing industries.

California: Climate-change models predicted bizarre weather in California, and it’s arrived: blistering heat and heavy rains. Offshore, a dramatic falloff in the levels of plankton and krill—possibly the result of elevated water temperatures—is wreaking havoc in fisheries and on bird life. Meanwhile, here and in eight other states (Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Louisiana, Michigan, New Hampshire, and Oregon), voters will consider ballot initiatives restricting states’ rights of eminent domain: the taking of private property for public purposes. Largely backed by libertarian and prodevelopment groups, the measures are a reaction to a 2005 Supreme Court decision which okayed a Connecticut taking of private property to redevelop the city of New London.

Las Vegas: Suburban sprawl has multiplied here (and elsewhere) because of the largely unregulated market for credit derivatives, an investment tool that helps finance massive new developments regardless of their environmental impact. But if interest rates go much higher, millions of Americans might be forced to default on mortgages that they suddenly can’t afford. Fiscal policy is an environmental issue, and sprawl here and around the nation is one reason why.

The Southwest: Climate change is threatening severe disruptions of water supply to already-dry states. For humans, the loss of predictable and abundant water supplies could mean that in the nottoo- distant future, some now-thriving communities like Phoenix could turn into ghost towns.

Portions of Texas, Oklahoma, New Mexico, Colorado, Wyoming, Nebraska, Kansas, and South Dakota are using up the Ogallala aquifer faster than ever. The nation’s largest aquifer, which underlies more than 175,000 square miles of farmland, is used to irrigate crops, but less water means lower crop yields, which translates to higher food prices.

The Great Lakes: Has water quality in the Great Lakes “progressively gotten better,” as Bush political appointees have claimed? Not unless you count pervasive pollution from mercury produced by electric utilities and stormwater runoff from suburbs as signs of progress.

Massachusetts:
A plan to park 120 windmills off Cape Cod has sparked a fight between developers who say it will provide clean energy and locals who worry about navigation safety, the windmills’ effect upon migrating birds, and the views from their beachfront homes.

New York: Because of soil erosion from development and heavier rains due to changing weather patterns, the oncepristine upstate reservoirs that quench New York City’s thirst have become muddy with silt. The city now faces the grim prospect that its water supply needs filtration—at a cost of billions.

Mississippi and Lousiana: Thanks to manmade changes in the Mississippi River, Louisiana has lost over 1,500 square miles of coast since the 1930s. And because of chemical runoff from farmland, the Mississippi terminates in a “dead zone” in the Gulf of Mexico that vacillates in size like an amoeba, sometimes growing larger than Connecticut—and utterly hostile to life.

Florida: Development plows full steam ahead in the Sunshine State, despite the increasing difficulty of coastal residents to obtain hurricane insurance. (Global warming appears to be increasing the severity of hurricanes.) Thanks to more powerful storms and rising sea levels, Florida has $2 trillion in coastal real estate at risk.

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Issue 25



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